Book review

The Leap by Jonathan Stroud (2001)

Charlie loses her best friend, Max. He drowns in the mill pond. She is there playing with him when it happens. Actually, I think he is bewitched while he sits in the plum tree. I think Charlie thinks that too:

I looked up at him. He was very still on his perch, with his head tilted on one side. Surely he couldn't have fallen asleep? No, his eyes were wide open, and so was his mouth, and he was gazing down into the water six feet or so below him. His hands were white and gripped the branch as if he feared to fall. I followed his gaze to the pool, but saw only the reflection of the sunlight which hurt my eyes.

Although she can't see anything from where she is lying on the bank, she certainly sees something down among the weeds when she jumps in after Max, to save him:

I swam towards them, and they turned, and Max's face was white and his eyes were open, but I knew he couldn't see me any more. He smiled and the women smiled with him, and they could see me all right - they were looking at me with eyes as green as buried pebbles.

She can't save him though. He drowns and Charlie saves herself.

What a terrible memory to live with. She tries to tell her story to her family and the doctors at the hospital, but they think she is confused. So, it is obviously something she is going to have to deal with herself.

When someone dies, we often say we have lost them, don't we? Charlie's loss is very real to her. So real, she thinks she can go and fetch him back. What makes her think she can do that? Well, she begins to have dreams. Every night the dream takes up where she finishes off the night before. The dream takes her on a journey through a strange land - and she is following someone, Max. She knows he is there just out of reach. It's a strange and beautiful place, but it is also a ghastly place, and as the dreams become more intense, the dreamland occupies Charlie's waking life and overlays her waking world.

What would the doctors say? Is this just Charlie's way of working through her grief? Certainly some of the advice she receives in her dreamworld might apply in this world too:

Max is distant; he's in the forest, walking. But he is also close to these sites that he once loved, and if you look hard enough, you may find ways through, shortcuts if you like, that will leap you on through the forest, closer to him.

Can Charlotte catch up with Max as he travels through the wood? What will she do if she catches up with him? Was he bewitched and abducted? Can she rescue Max from their clutches? Or is it Charlotte who needs rescuing? If you read the book, I promise you will be mesmerised by her journey. This is a very powerful piece of writing, with all the agony of bereavement and loss, and the confusion and anger that goes along with such an experience. When the wolves jumped out of Charlotte's dreams and prowled round her waking life I was frightened to death!

What can I read next?

Jonathan Stroud has written another book:

  • Buried Fire

If haunting dreams interest you, perhaps you might enjoy this one by Jan Mark:

Or anything by David Almond:

For a really terrible dream, have a look at this one by Mervyn Peake:

William Mayne's time travel trilogy might interest you:

If it is just being in another world which interests you, have a look at Philip Pullman's trilogy:

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